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The Atiku phenomenon


Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

The man, Atiku Abubakar, (GCON) means different things to different people. To some people, he is a business tycoon whose empire cuts across real estate, agriculture, container services with the brand name NICOTES which was later rebranded INTELS, an oil servicing company with extensive operations in Nigeria.

To some others, Atiku, the original Turaki Adamawa and now the Waziri Adamawa, is an educationist, being the co-founder of the American University of Nigeria (AUN), in Yola, Adamawa State. Some know Atiku as an able civil servant, a former customs officer and a philanthropist who identifies with worthy causes at home and abroad.

Yet to many others, Atiku is a political enigma, whose brand of politics is confounding. Atiku’s odyssey in politics started in 1990. He came to the limelight when he emerged as the Vice President in 1999 under Olusegun Obasanjo as president.

Atiku’s ceaseless migration from one political party to another since the beginning of this dispensation is the subject of this comment. That is what sets him apart. Perhaps, no other politician in contemporary Nigeria has exhibited Atiku’s instinct and still remains relevant. Each time he moves, the receiving party is happy while the losing party feels the absence of a titan.

The question is what really is behind Atiku’s cross-carpeting instinct that is now synonymous with him? What is he trying to achieve? Is it in the public interest or for selfish reasons? Is it possible for Atiku to stay in one political party? Some people just dismiss the name Atiku with the wave of hand without knowing the man. I think it is good to know where he is coming from.

The first time Atiku ventured into politics was in the early 1980s, when he worked behind the scene for Bamanga Tukur’s governorship campaign. Tukur was then the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Atiku canvassed for votes for Tukur and also donated to his campaign.

Shortly after that, he met Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the foremost second-in-command in the military government that ruled Nigeria from 1976 to 1979. Atiku, who then was close to his retirement as a customs officer, was drawn into the political meetings of Shehu Yar’Adua in his Lagos home.

In 1989, Atiku was elected as the National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Front of Nigeria led by Shehu Yar’Adua, to enable him participate in the political transition programme of the Ibrahim Babangida military junta. Atiku won a seat to represent his constituency at the 1989 Constituent Assembly set up to decide on a new constitution for Nigeria.

When the Peoples Front of Nigeria was denied registration like all the other budding parties, Atiku’s group joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which was one of the two parties decreed into existence by the military regime.

In 1990, Atiku declared his intention to contest in the defunct Gongola State election as governor. After Gongola State was split into Adamawa and Taraba States by the Federal Government, Atiku, who fell under Adamawa State subsequently won the SDP primaries in 1991 but was disqualified by government from contesting.

That was not the end. After Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Atiku’s political mentor was disqualified in 1992 by the military in his bid for the SDP presidential primary ticket, Yar’Adua decided to push Atiku forward as the SDP’s focal point. Atiku came third in the SDP convention primary which MKO Abiola won by about 400 votes; a run-off was due. Atiku stepped down and asked his supporters to vote for Abiola on the understanding that he would be made his running mate. Abiola won the SDP ticket and instead chose Babagana Kingibe, the runner-up as his running mate.

Undeterred, in 1998, a year before the military hand over, Atiku launched a bid for the governorship ticket of Adamawa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He won the governorship election but before he was sworn in, Olusegun Obasanjo, the PDP’s presidential candidate tapped him to be his vice-presidential candidate. The Obasanjo-Atiku ticket won the 1999 presidential election that ushered in the new democratic dispensation.

Atiku Abubakar was Vice President of Nigeria from May 29, 1999 till May 29, 2007. He presided over the National Council on Privatization overseeing the sale of hundreds of poorly managed public enterprises. He also, alongside South Africa’s Deputy President, Jacob Zuma, launched the South Africa Nigeria Bi-national Commission.

In 2006, Atiku fell apart with his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, over what many believe was Obasanjo’s bid to amend certain aspects of the constitution to enable him take a third term. The PDP split over the matter. The national Assembly saved the day by voting against any constitutional amendment that would allow Obasanjo to run for a third term. The face-off seriously damaged the personal relationship between Obasanjo and Atiku.

I would like to remind the two men that in politics, there is no permanent enemy or permanent friend but permanent interest, courtesy of Zik. Obasanjo and Atiku should mend fences in the interest of Nigeria. They cannot be enemies forever.

Atiku launched a presidential bid in 2006 under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and lost to the PDP’s candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua. He took the third position behind Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Atiku shunned the swearing-in ceremony of Umaru Yar’Adua alleging that the election was “the worst ever.”

In October 2010, Atiku, who has returned to the PDP, announced his third presidential bid. The Committee of Northern Elders selected him as their consensus candidate over Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu Gusau and Bukola Saraki.

Atiku contested the presidential ticket of the PDP alongside Goodluck Jonathan and Sarah Jubril and lost with 805 votes as against Jonathan’s 2736 votes.

In August, 2013, Atiku reportedly registered the Peoples Democratic Movement, which was speculated to be a back-up for him in case he was unable to realise his presidential bid under the PDP.

Atiku left the PDP again on February 2, 2014 to join the All Progressives Congress (APC) probably with intention to seek presidential ticket in the party but Muhammadu Buhari won it.

The latest return of Atiku to the PDP on November 24, 2017, shows that he is not just an ordinary politician. This is the fifth time that Atiku has cross-carpeted from one party to the other all in a bid to realise his presidential ambition.

Rather than chastise Atiku as mischievous, I see a man who is involved in unrelenting thinking; a dogged fighter, hardworking, patient, forgiving, seeking peace and above all looking for a stable political platform as springboard to launch his political and economic plans for Nigeria.

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